Many studies have reported the needs of orphaned children in the school environment in terms of requiring funds for school fees and school uniforms. Although some studies have mentioned the needs of orphaned children for social and psychological support, less attention has been given to understanding how teachers construct orphanhood and how they cope with the needs of orphaned children. This study investigates how teachers identify and respond to the needs of orphaned children. Rich descriptive data on the experiences of the orphans and their teachers was generated through in-depth interviews. The aim of interviewing the orphans was to explore the realities of their lived experiences of orphanhood and their expectations of how other people respond to their needs, and to compare them with the teachers’ experiences of teaching the orphans. This study applied a grounded theory approach in generating and analysing data. The experiences of 12 orphaned children who were interviewed suggest the need for social and emotional support in addition to material support. Two distinct identities of teachers emerged in the two schools where the interviews were done. There were teachers who responded positively to the needs of orphaned children and those who refer the orphans to ‘the teachers who help orphaned children’. The findings suggest that internal motivation had a strong influence on the choices the teachers made in responding to the needs of the orphaned children. In addition, interactive and involved relationships determine how the teachers identify the needs of the orphans and how the teachers respond to the needs identified.